Prada's Patrizio Bertelli on Social Media, the Modern Market and Fashion's 'Rules'

Patrizio Bertelli, the Prada Group’s Chief Executive Officer, is one of the core strengths of the iconic Milan-based brand; the business mind to wife Muccia Prada’s well-established creative genius. He recently sat down with WWD’s Luisa Zargani to discuss social media, the changing consumer — and there being ‘no rules in fashion.’ Some of our favorite excerpts are as follows. 

Let’s move on to the Prada business. During past conference calls in discussing financial results, you spoke about the need to identify the new luxury consumers. Who are they? How do they buy? Are they loyal? How do you think to engage them?

Every 10 years, there is a presentation of a typical consumer. But the consumer today still wants that same luxury as back in the Eighties or Nineties. The difference now is the approach to that consumer. Until the year 2000, the markets that could benefit from luxury were very much limited, one-third of the world. Then came the globalization, the new markets, Brazil, China, India and this brought three billion new consumers, so the market has tripled but the customers are more diversified in terms of habits, ethnically and so on.

Before the iPhone came out, and especially the iPhone 6, there wasn’t really a boom of the use of digital images. But after 2014, with the [iPhone 6] it’s a small iPad. Everything changed with the use of images, and the connection of people, the new digital platforms. [Kim] Kardashian, for example, has 80 million followers — 80 million. What a number. Ten years ago it was unthinkable. The approach of consumers changed also toward fashion. The first contact with fashion is the phone, e-commerce or the store equally are the second contact, stimulated by all these digital activities. This means that companies must be prepared.

Do you think some brands are sneaky and may jump on this and focus on products that stand out on social media?

I think so, but I want to add that people’s attention is limited, and speed requires for the images to strike you. And this, whether it’s the image or someone wearing the clothes, changes the identity of the product, so that it is more visible.

I was thinking of each product, focused in terms of photography. Even a big black shopping bag can have an identity be [special] in a context. So it’s not the object but the context. We would almost have to do a video per week. It’s a big problem in terms of organization, the product is almost “less important” than the skill in presenting it. The representation becomes very important. To align product and representation is the winning asset.

What is the perception of the markets today?

China is showing signs of a pickup. The markets are not bad at all. After Brexit, the U.K. is much better. Paris is still affected by [the terrorist attacks]. It has not picked up. Between the two options, going to the U.K. and feeling its energy and Paris with its weight of worry, people discard Paris. Athens is performing very well, there are many Chinese tourists going to the Parthenon. Russia has picked up a lot, the Red Square…Ukraine no, it’s different. In the U.S., we have problems with our store on Fifth Avenue, just in front of the Trump Tower, because people can’t access it.

Brunello Cucinelli contends that companies should not send too many e-mails around and that communication should be easy on consumers.

We may dream of a world not tied to the past, but it’s not right. I remember in 1988 when people would tease me because I had a big phone in my car, but it was better than stopping on the highway with a bag of coins to make calls from public phones.

What about the women’s shows moving to July?

I am favorable to everything. Fashion stems from new initiatives and new challenges, from a certain kind of freedom. If there are rules it’s wrong. There is nothing right or wrong in fashion. Brands should do what they think works for them. Showing women’s in July would bring production advantages, the same as when men’s wear shows were moved from September to June. But if it doesn’t happen, amen.

In all situations, those that are affected the most are the smaller companies. They can’t plan or buy in the dark. We should keep an eye on small companies for every change we want to initiate. It’s the same with digital. Those who are excluded are the small brands. Investments cost and the gap between small and big companies increases.